Hey Tim. Thanks for talking with us today. Please tell us a little about yourself. When did you begin hiking and backpacking, and how much time do you currently spend outdoors?
I grew up in MI chasing smallmouth bass from the front of my dads canoe. We took week plus trips each summer when I was young all over Northern MI with each years trips Increasing the level of wilderness immersion. At age 12 we went to Quetico Provincial park in Ontario Canada. From that year on we took multiple week+ trips up there, dad loving the wilderness, me chasing the bass. My wife introduced me to backpacking in 2003 and it was just one more way to get out and experience the wonders our culture has seemed to ignore. I try to take the kids hiking or fishing weekly and take them on long weekend canoe trips whenever we can. They are pretty young, 4 and 10 months so the trips are short but it is great to share wild places with them. Since moving to MN I haven’t been hiking much, once again choosing to chase the brown bass now from the canoe. there are so many great clear rocky lakes in this state and the ones near by that have me excited each year chasing the bass with the kids but it won’t be too long before they can do some backpacking too.
What are some of your favorite places to hike?
The first trip with the wife to the Smokies holds a lot of memories for me. I also enjoy the porcupine mountains in MI Upper Peninsula. Being from the mid west we don’t have some of the spectacular vistas other hikers enjoy but any track that wanders away from the noise and into the wild is good enough for me. Being in MN I spend some time each year in the BWCA and have been taking my kids up to the Sylvania Wilderness area in the UP. I went there as a kid with my dad and it is a great small scale wilderness area that I love to take my kids to. The smallmouth fishing isn’t too bad either.
What’s a typical baseweight for you, or do you bother keeping track?
I hike ultralight and canoe light. I have done SUL and do enjoy it but I really like sleeping in a hammock and haven’t done the work to get that kit into the sub 5-pound world just yet.
Please tell us a little about the products that you’re making right now.
We make ultralight, and some SUL sleeping quilts. We make top quilts that can also serve as hammock underquilts, but they are top quilts first. We offer 30d, 20d, 10d and Cuben materials in our quilts with a 15d soon to replace the 20d. We are offering some of the most affordable quilts anywhere with our line of X products. We are using slightly cosmetic 2nds 30d material to offer 850fill down and Climashield insulated quilts at a significant savings.
What sparked your interest in making quilts?
When I discovered quilts it gave me a freedom when sleeping I hadn’t felt while camping before. I made some for myself and when I changed the design sold the first few. I did this a few times and found I was making a product people wanted. It also allowed me to design and build gear on a larger scale than I could just for myself. I really enjoy designing to solve problems and this has been a great avenue for me to scratch that itch.
For our readers who are more familiar with sleeping bags, or haven’t used a quilt for backpacking, can you break down the differences and/or benefits as you see them?
Sleeping bags are basically warm coffins. Quilts are ultralight blankets made of lightweight nylon and high fill power down (just like a high end sleeping bag). They have a method to form a footbox like a sleeping bag has but in every other way they work just like the blankets we use at home. Most are thinner than our home blankets to save on weight so they offer a method of drawing the sides in tight to seal out drafts when they get cold.
Since the insulation in your sleeping bag that you lay on is crushed flat, it actually provides no insulation; so both quilts and bags require an insulated pad to keep your butt warm. In a hammock you could use an underquilt to heat your back side but either way in a bag or quilt you need the same amount of insulation under you so why not leave the extra fabric, down, and heavy zippers of the sleeping bag at home. Unless you like sleeping in a coffin, then go for it. HYOH
You are probably one of few, if not the only manufacturer offering Cuben Fiber shell material on your quilts. What benefits or properties does Cuben lend to the design?
Cuben fiber creates a vapor barrier which can greatly boost the felt warmth without adding weight. Two identical quilts, one nylon and one cuben the cuben one will always be warmer due to the vapor barrier effect and lighter since our lightest nylon weighs .7 oz/sqyd but our heaviest cuben is .51 oz/sqyd.
So, how did you become so good with a needle and thread?
I have spent thousands of hours punching holes in nylon. after all that time you have to learn something, right? I wanted UL gear for myself so I got the Ray-way kits and learned to sew on the wife’s machine. I was bad, but like I said above, lots of time makes a huge difference.
Where are you manufacturing your products?
All products start out as raw fabric in the basement of my home in Winona, MN. after they are cut out the quilts go to my sewers to be assembled. Most of them are local but a few live in WI (I know but they do good work so i look past it) and some in northern MN. Then everything comes back to the basement for inspection and down. The hum of our down blowers can be heard all down the street it’s a real treat for the neighbors.
Do you see yourself expanding production to overseas? What are your thoughts on off-shore manufacturing?
I would only do that if we grew to a size where we couldn’t amass a large enough local workforce. Even then I would consider moving production to a larger area in the us first. I value keeping money local and I love that we are part of that. I’d rather make less as a company but pay a solid wage to the people who actually make our products than make a fortune shipping our money across the ocean.
Would you say the term “cottage manufacturer” is appropriate for your company, or do you prefer something else perhaps?
For sure. Our products are currently made in basements, living rooms and kitchens. It’s no longer a one family business in the traditional cottage sense, but we certainly have kept the home crafted nature in the way we build our products. A production facility is something we will have to do in the near future but we will still handle all of our customer service either by myself as I do now, or if I can twist her arm. by my wife which would allow me much more time designing and building new products. This still keeps things very personal and allows our customers access not to some low level employee who doesn’t really know much about the company but right to the owners, who literally know all things 🙂
What would you say to the folks out there who aren’t familiar with the smaller independent manufacturers and what to expect in terms of customer service, and product quality? Is there anything about your products, business, or the cottage industry in general you’d like to emphasize?
Shoot an email question off to the North Face or Columbia. How long will you wait for a reply, who will you end up talking to and how much will they know about the product you asked about? Now send that same email to us, you get me. Not someone in India who has never even seen the product in question or even been camping, me. You get me. I design and build every product at its start, I check the quality on every single product we ship, I know the production staff by name and call most of them my friends. You get me. Send that same email to any cottage shop and the same will be true. But now consider how long it takes to get a reply. I can’t think of an email that ever waited more than 12hrs for a reply from me. Most within the hr and many within minutes. That isn’t even the case for most cottage shops. Most owners are also producers which make them harder to reach. Not me, I set myself apart from production so I can be here for my customers. Even as we move forward and it isn’t me, it will be my wife who has been right there every step. We think great, not good, but great customer service is of the most importance.
Just for fun, what’s one of your favorite pieces of gear made by another manufacturer?
Well, if it’s sewn I make it for myself, so not much help there. I love my Sanborn Canoe paddles, but I am part owner in that company, as they are in mine so that is shameless self promotion (also I have made my own paddles since they taught me). The only piece of gear that I always take that I don’t make or am connected to is the Back country boiler. I know things are rough for them right now but hope they get it all worked out as I love Devin and really love the product.
How did your partnership with Sanborn Canoe come about?
I go to church with those guys and our love of the outdoors lead us to start going to the BWCA together. We started swapping gear and realized our gear made sense together. My lightweight quilts and their lightweight (and sexy) paddles just need to be together. We realized we have the same goals in camping, taking less and exploring more so a relationship just made sense. We currently keep our businesses separate but are developing things together.
Do you have any plans to expand your standard product offering, or any new products on the horizon that you can talk about?
If I can find some more staff I am dying to release my hammocks. I also want to build an underquilt that serves a bunch more purposes but adding products is tough with my workforce spread out. Once we can add some more people at least hammocks will get added but once we can move into a shop look for tons of new stuff from us.
What is your vision for yourself and your company going into the future?
I’d like to open a shop and showroom locally, Winona or LaCrosse Wi. I want to expand my product line but ultimately I just want to keep making products people need at prices they love. I don’t want to give up on that ever.
Complete this sentence: “I hope that Enlightened Equipment products will …”
Make you loose weight, be more appealing to the opposite sex, make your friends think you’re cool, get you that promotion at work, become a tv star and rule the universe.
Seriously though I hope our products can save you money and time, increase your enjoyment in the wilderness, and be passed down to your kids someday. If they can do that who needs that other crap anyway.
Thanks for taking some time with us, Tim. Is there anything else you’d like to add, or any sage advice to bestow upon those reading this interview?
I’m glad to be able to talk directly to outdoor enthusiasts like this. Thanks for the opportunity. I think that once people find our products, see our prices, and talk to me about their questions they will find it hard to spend good money on a mass produced piece of Chinese trash.
…And there ya have it! I’m sure you’ll want to get all of the details on Tim’s awesome quilts, so please cruise over to www.EnligthenedEquipment.com
, where you can check out the full product line and amazing prices. Hike It. Like It.